Home > Snuff (Discworld #39)(6)

Snuff (Discworld #39)(6)
Terry Pratchett

It wasn’t like that now, not even close.

But in those days young Vimes had seen butlers as double-traitors to both sides and so the large man in the black tailcoat got a glare that skewered him. The fact that he gave Vimes a little nod did not help matters. Vimes lived in a world where people saluted.

“I am Silver, the butler, your grace,” the man carefully intoned reprovingly.

Vimes immediately grabbed him by the hand and shook it warmly. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Silver!”

The butler winced. “It’s Silver, sir, not Mister.”

“Sorry about that, Mr. Silver. So what’s your first name?”

The butler’s face was an entertainment. “Silver, sir! Always Silver!”

“Well, Mr. Silver,” said Vimes, “it’s an item of faith with me that once you get past the trousers all men are the same.”

The butler’s face was wooden as he said, “That is as maybe, sir, but I am and always will be, commander, Silver. Good evening, your grace, ” the butler turned, “and good evening, Lady Sybil. It must be seven or eight years since anyone from the family came to stay. May we look forward to further visits? And might I please introduce to you my wife, Mrs. Silver, the housekeeper, whom I think you have not met before?”

Vimes could not stop his mind translating the little speech as: I am annoyed that you ignored me to shake hands with the gardener … which, to be fair, was not deliberate. Vimes had shaken the gardener’s hand out of sheer, overpowering terror. The translation continued: and now I am worried that we might not be having such an easy life in the near future.

“Hold on a minute,” said Vimes, “my wife is a Grace as well, you know, that’s a bit more than a lady. Syb— Her Grace made me look at the score chart.”

Lady Sybil knew her husband in the way people living next door to a volcano get to know the moods of their neighbor. The important thing is to avoid the bang.

“Sam, I have been Lady Sybil to all the servants in both our houses ever since I was a girl, and so I regard Lady Sybil as my name, at least among people I have come to look on as friends. You know that!” And, she added to herself, we all have our little quirks, Sam, even you.

And with that scented admonition floating in the air, Lady Sybil shook the housekeeper’s hand, and then turned to her son. “Now it’s bed for you, Young Sam, straight after supper. And no arguing.”

Vimes looked around as the little party stepped into the entrance hall which was to all intents and purposes an armory. It would always be an armory in the eyes of any policeman although, undoubtedly, to the Ramkins who had put the swords, halberds, cutlasses, maces, pikes and shields on every wall, the assemblage was no more than a bit of historical furniture. In the middle of it all was the enormous Ramkin coat of arms. Vimes already knew what the motto said, “What We Have We Keep.” You could call it … a hint.

Soon afterward Lady Sybil was busily engaged in the huge laundry and ironing room with Purity the maid, whom Vimes had insisted she take on after the birth of Young Sam, and who, both he and his wife believed, had an understanding with Willikins, although exactly what it was they understood remained a speculation. The two women were engrossed in the feminine pastime of taking clothes out of some things, and putting them into other things. This could go on for a long time, and included the ceremony of holding some things up to the light and giving a sad little sigh.

In the absence of anything else to do, Vimes headed back out to the magnificent flight of steps, where he lit a cigar. Sybil was adamant about no smoking in the house. A voice behind him said, “You don’t need to do that, sir. The Hall has a rather good smoking room, including a clockwork air extractor, which is very posh, sir, believe me, you don’t often see them.” Vimes let Willikins lead the way.

It was a pretty good smoking room, thought Vimes, although his first-hand experience of them was admittedly limited. The room included a large snooker table and, down below, a cellar with more alcohol than any reformed alcoholic should ever see.

“We did tell them I don’t drink, didn’t we, Willikins?”

“Oh yes, sir. Silver said that generally the Hall finds it appropriate—I think his words were—to keep the cellar full in case of arrivals.”

“Well, it seems to me to be a shame to pass up the opportunity, Willikins, so be my guest and pour yourself a drink.”

Willikins perceptibly recoiled. “Oh no, sir, I couldn’t possibly do that, sir.”

“Why not, man?”

“It’s just not done, sir. I would be the laughingstock of the League of Gentlemen’s Gentlemen if I was so impertinent as to have a drink with my employer. It would be getting ideas above my station, sir.”

This offended Vimes to his shakily egalitarian core,** who said, “I know your station, Willikins, and it’s about the same station as mine when the chips are down and the wounds have healed.”

“Look, sir,” said Willikins, almost pleading. “Just occasionally we have to follow some rules. So, on this occasion I won’t drink with you, it not being Hogswatch or the birth of an heir, which are accounted for under the rules, but instead I’ll follow the acceptable alternative, which is to wait until you’ve gone to bed and drink half the bottle.”

Well, thought Vimes, we all have our funny little ways, although some of Willikins’ would not be funny if he was angry with you in a dark alley; but he brightened as he watched Willikins rummage through a well-stocked cocktail cabinet, meticulously dropping items into a glass shaker.**

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